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Coronavirus: Three key issues facing the egg sector

CORONAVIRUS has placed unprecedented demand on farmers and the wider food chain, and it’s no different in the egg sector.

Staffing problems, potential packaging problems and PPE shortages have been major issues, according to the British Egg Industry Council’s Mark Williams.

Retail demand has soared over the past weeks, while the food service sector has closed down, creating supply balance issues.

Testing

The government’s announcement on 24 April, that all key workers can apply for a coronavirus test will help alleviate labour issues within the egg sector, Mr Williams said.

The BEIC has worked with Defra to outline the roles that are most critical to the efficient operation of the egg supply chain.

Guidance for how to apply for a coronavirus test can by found on the government website.

PPE

Providing workers on poultry farms with the correct PPE is a legal requirement, but there is unprecedented and urgent demand in hospitals for those treating covid-19 patients.

The BEIC estimates that the integrated egg sector needs 25,000-30,000 FFP2 and FFP3 facemasks a week to operate normally, but it is appreciated there is a more pressing need in healthcare at present.

The Health & Safety Executive has issued guidance for food businesses in managing PPE supplies.

It says it will take a pragmatic approach, and that operators should undertake risk assessments if usual PPE is unavailable.

The BEIC has joined a consortium of similar organisations and is working with Defra and other departments on the issue.

Packaging

Early in the outbreak, a major supplier of packaging switched to plain egg boxes, removing the colours and customisations for individual retailers to simplify its manufacturing process.

Concerns that the situation across the food industry could get worse led to Defra issuing guidance to local Trading Standards authorities to be flexible with food businesses and their labelling on a case-by-case basis.

That guidance made clear that compromises on food safety and traceability would not be tolerated.

As the coronavirus pandemic has evolved, retail demand for eggs remains higher, but has stabilised.

Mr Williams said some members, particularly those who usually supplied food service, had reported packaging shortages as they diverted eggs normally sold in bulk into retail.

But some of the more extensive changes to labelling that had been considered as contingencies had not taken place.